23% of Americans think real estate is the best way to build wealth, but only 12% bought in 2022

Published Thu, Dec 15 202210:10 AM EST


Ryan Ermey

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Chris Whitehead | Image Source | Getty Images

When it comes to building wealth, Americans say one thing and do another.

When asked the best way to build personal wealth, 23% of adults said investing in real estate, according to the recent CNBC Make It: Your Money survey, conducted in partnership with Momentive. That makes it the most popular would-be wealth building method, ahead of investing in stocks (16%), starting your own business (15%) and getting a second job or side hustle (12%).

But that’s not what those looking to increase their wealth actually did this year. In 2022, the No. 1 action Americans took to build wealth, stated by 27% of respondents, was investing in the stock market. Just 12% invested in real estate.

Why real estate is more popular than stocks in theory, but not in practice

So what’s keeping Americans from investing the way they want? The biggest factor, financial experts say, is cost.

“In real estate, it takes money to make money,” says Nicholas Bunio, a certified financial planner in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. “Meaning you need to pay either cash for the house, or mortgage the property. Not to mention fix up the property and yearly maintenance. Which costs money.”

Over the past year alone, the average cost of a 20% down payment for a home in the country’s 50 largest metropolitan areas has grown by 35% to nearly $63,000, according to recent data from LendingTree.

It’s no wonder, then, that wealthier respondents in Make It’s survey were more likely to have invested in real estate. Just 6% of respondents earning $50,000 or less said they bought real estate this year, compared with 12% earning between $50,000 and $99,000 and 21% earning $100,000 and up.

Real estate isn’t necessarily a better investment anyway

It’s not hard to see why investors have been salivating over real estate lately. Sure, you may need tens of thousands of dollars to get started, but look at the money folks are making! U.S. home prices were up 10% in the 12 months ending in October 2022, according to data from CoreLogic. Stock prices declined more than 15% over the same period.

But for many investors looking to earn long-term returns, the barrier to enter the real estate market may end up being a silver lining. Stocks have a decades-long history of delivering compounding, wealth-building returns that outpace the rate of inflation over time.

The same can’t necessarily be said for real estate, says Kevin Brady, a CFP with Wealthspire Advisors in New York City. “Real estate has a historical track record but that record shows that long-term returns often match or barely exceed inflation,” he says.

From March 1992 through September of this year, home prices have logged average annual growth of 5.3%, according to data from research firm CEIC. Over the same period, the S&P 500 posted an annualized total return of 9.5%.

“Bottom-line, younger investors need a healthy allocation to stocks,” says Brady.

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